SERANG: Hidden motion-activated video cameras have captured proof that Javan rhinos are breeding in Indonesia’s Ujung Kulon National Park, conservationists calling it the last hope for the endangered mammals.
Footage of two females with two calves was taken in November and December last year by cameras hidden in the jungle of the rhino sanctuary on the southwestern tip of Java island, environmental group WWF said. Before these camera trap images surfaced, only 12 other Javan rhino births were recorded in the past decade.
“The videos are great news for Javan rhinos and prove that they are breeding in Ujung Kulon,” said Eric Dinerstein, chief scientist at WWF-U.S. He warned, however, that the survival of the species is still far from certain. “There are no Javan rhinos in captivity – if we lose the population in the wild, we’ve lost them all.”
Protecting Earth’s rarest mammal
The Javan rhino is possibly the rarest mammal on the planet with as few as 40 left, however the camera data have led conservationists to believe there could now be up to 50.
Once numerous throughout Southeast Asia, the Javan rhino population is now likely isolated to Ujung Kulon National Park in Indonesia. A handful of Javan rhinos are also believed to exist in Vietnam but conservationists say those individuals, if they are still alive, are not a sustainable population.
This small population size makes it extremely vulnerable to any threat, including poaching for its horn. “The camera enables us to know the position of the rhinos, their sex and whether there are pregnant rhinos among them,” said Ujung Kulon National Park authority chief Agus Priambudi.
“It will also help us to protect them from poaching… By knowing exactly where the rhinos usually roam, it’s easier for our rangers to provide security for them.”
Eruptions, earthquakes and tsumanis
A possible earthquake or eruption by nearby volcano Anak Krakatau could also easily wipe out all life on the peninsula by triggering tsunamis where the rhinos are concentrated, according to the researchers.
“We know that Ujung Kulon sits on a hot spot due to the active volcano, Anak Krakatau, and on plates with high seismic activity,” WWF’s Hariyadi said. “The risk of extinction due to natural disaster is quite high.”
With these threats in mind, officials are preparing to move up to five female and three male rhinos to another forest sanctuary on Java.
Hopes to replicate white rhino success
“Fifty years of conservation experience has taught us that saving Javan rhinos is possible through population management and proper protection,” said Barney Long, head of Asian species conservation at WWF-US.
“We’ve done it before – helping rhino populations rebound in Africa and South Asia – and we can do it again in Indonesia.”
Dinerstein added, “The recovery of the white rhino in South Africa is the most successful example of international wildlife conservation for a highly endangered species. With less than 50 left in a single reserve in 1900, there are currently around 20,000 alive in nine countries. Examples like this give us hope that in 10 or 20 years through translocation and proper protection we can begin to witness a Javan rhino rebound.”